Officials Issue Reminder to Buckle Up

The Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC) is urging drivers to buckle up ahead of a county-wide education and enforcement effort March 17-27. During that time, the 52-member TSC is working with law enforcement groups and other agencies in the “Buckle Up. Every Trip. Every Time.” campaign to remind the public of the risks and consequences of not wearing seat belts.

“We want seat belt use to be an automatic habit for drivers and passengers alike,” said Lt. Chad O’Neil, Stoughton Police Department, and co-chair of the TSC Law Enforcement Group. “Use of seat belts is the single most effective way to stay alive in a crash.” Lt. O’Neil said in the past five years, 74,059 persons were involved in Dane County traffic crashes where seat belt use was known. Ninety-six percent of those with no injuries were wearing seat belts, while half of those killed were not.

The national seat belt use rate in 2023 was 91.9%. Lt. O’Neil warned that while this rate is the highest since 2017, the rate of seat belt use in Wisconsin has been declining. “In 2022, the Wisconsin rate was 87.5%. That’s still good, but it can be better,” he said. “What about the other 12.5%?”

“Buckling up increases likelihood that drivers and passengers remain inside the vehicle during a crash. Being ejected from the vehicle during a crash is almost always deadly,” Lt. O’Neil said. He added that seat belts also are the best defense against impaired, aggressive, and distracted drivers. Cheryl Wittke, TSC co-chair and executive director of Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County, clarified several misconceptions about seat belt use:

  • It’s as important to wear seatbelts in large vehicles like pickups as in passenger cars. National statistics show of those not buckled up and involved in 2021 traffic crashes, 61% of pickup truck occupants died, compared to 47% in passenger vehicles.
  • Air bags are designed to work with seatbelts, not replace them. The force of an airbag can seriously hurt or kill you if you’re not buckled up.
  • Improperly wearing a seat belt, such as putting the strap below the arm, puts you at greater risk in a crash.
  • Buckling up in the back seat of a passenger vehicle is as important as in the front seat.

Lt. O’Neil said the Dane County Sheriff’s Office and many local police departments in Dane County will be conducting increased enforcement efforts during the campaign to spot unbelted vehicle occupants. “We’ll be watching day and night since we know a higher percentage of fatalities occurring at night are unrestrained (57%) than during the day (43%). We’ll be especially watching for younger drivers who are more likely to be unbelted and lose their lives. He said 64% of those killed or seriously injured and not wearing seat belts in Dane County crashes over the past five years were aged 35 or younger.

“Anyone driving without a seat belt will receive a citation, but that’s not the most important reason. We don’t want even one person to die or be seriously injured when it could have been prevented by the simple act of buckling up.”

He said all law enforcement agencies participating in the campaign will be reporting results, which will be shared with the public afterwards.

Participating Law Enforcement Agencies:
(Additional agencies may be added by time of the campaign)

  • Dane County Sheriff’s Office
  • Belleville Police Dept.
  • Blue Mounds Police Dept.
  • Cottage Grove Police Dept.
  • DeForest Police Dept.
  • Madison Police Dept.
  • Maple Bluff Police Dept.
  • Marshall Police Dept.
  • McFarland Police Dept.
  • Monona Police Dept.
  • Marshall Police Dept.
  • Middleton Police Dept.
  • Monona Police Dept.
  • Mount Horeb Police Dept.
  • Oregon Police Dept.
  • Stoughton Police Dept.
  • UW-Madison Police Dept.
  • Verona Police Dept.
  • Waunakee Police Dept.

Please see attached resources

Seat Belt Safety Fact Sheet

Seat Belts – Social Media Messages

 

Injuries and Fatalities Up Among Older Drivers

In 2023, Dane County saw an increase in serious injuries and deaths of older drivers involved in traffic crashes. Seriously injured were 35 drivers aged 65 or older, and 8 more died. This is an overall increase of 23% from the previous four-year average, according to a new report from the 49-member Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC), which reviews fatal traffic crashes quarterly. In the most
recent quarter, last October through December, two of the eight fatalities were
persons 65 or older.

Cheryl Wittke, executive director of Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County and TSC co-chair, said in Dane County the number of crashes in 2023 involving older drivers was the highest since 2019. “In 2023, drivers 65+ accounted for 25% of all fatalities, compared to 18% (1,473) of all crashes. Per mile traveled,
older drivers crash more often than middle-aged adults, though not as often as young drivers.”

She added that older drivers tend to get hurt more seriously or killed in traffic crashes. “Today’s automatic safety features make a big difference. With standard side airbags, vehicles are seeing improved side impact protection, especially for older drivers. Lane change alerts and automatic braking help all drivers, but especially older drivers.”

Wittke said these features may help older drivers compensate for the normal processes of aging that can affect ability to drive over time. “Less flexible joints or other medical conditions may make it harder to turn your head to look around, turn the steering wheel quickly or brake safely. Changes in eyesight, hearing loss, or effects of certain medications may also impact driving. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to quit driving.”

Good news is that older drivers are less likely to engage in risky driving behavior. That is supported by a 2023 AAA study showing older drivers are less likely to speed or drive distracted, such as using phones for calls or texts. They’re also more likely to wear seatbelts and avoid aggressive driving, such as red light running, quick lane changes, or tailgating.

TSC member Nick Jarmusz, AAA of Wisconsin, added that a number of available driving courses can help older drivers adopt preventive measures and understand physical changes that put them and others on the road more at risk. “AAA’s RoadWise Driver senior defensive driving course offers tips to help mature drivers compensate for physical changes and take advantage of today’s advanced, risk- reducing driving techniques. After completing they may even qualify for a discount on auto insurance.”

Jarmusz cautions drivers who have been behind the wheel for decades that changes may be so subtle they at first don’t recognize them. If drivers are experiencing any of the following, he recommends a discussion with their physician and families:

  • Frequently having trouble reading traffic control signs
  • Feeling stressed when driving
  • Having friends or family express concern with your driving
  • Difficulty looking over your shoulder when changing lanes or backing
  • Taking medications that cause drowsiness

“These don’t necessarily mean they need to stop driving,” he said. “They may want to self- impose restrictions, such as not driving after dark, in bad weather, or during heavy traffic times. In extreme cases, there may come a time when stopping driving is the safest decision for themselves and
others on the road.”

Wittke added that certain traffic situations can be especially risky for older drivers. These include becoming distracted or confused by events around them, failing to yield at intersections, misjudging the speed of oncoming vehicles, and driving on high-speed roadways. “Most important is being aware of these risks and taking action before anyone gets hurt, whether that is to take a safe driving course, restrict driving, or seek alternative ways of getting around town.”

She said Wisconsin is one of only 16 states that allows 8-year-license renewal regardless of age. Like 44 states, Wisconsin requires proof of adequate vision at license renewal for older drivers. Staff at the Department of Motor Vehicles have a responsibility to observe whether the functional ability of a driver may interfere with driving, and if so, to require additional tests or a medical report. “In general, simply getting older shouldn’t affect your safety and fitness to drive. With many older drivers enjoying better health than in the past, they can function more safely today and for a longer time,” Wittke said.

236 Citations Issued in Dane County Impaired Driving Campaign

Originally Released: January 22, 2024.

 

Two hundred thirty-six drivers were cited for traffic violations during a December two-day crackdown on impaired driving which involved all law
enforcement agencies in Dane County, according to the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC).

On December 15 and 29, the Wisconsin State Patrol, Dane County Sheriff’s Office and all Dane County police departments implemented increased enforcement looking for impaired drivers through the “Drive Sober, Get Pulled Over” campaign organized by the TSCs law enforcement subgroup.

Lt. Chad O’Neil, Stoughton Police Department, co-chairs that group. “This was the first time in recent history when all 22 county law enforcement agencies conducted simultaneous enforcement to stop driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” Lt. O’Neil said.

During this two-day effort, these agencies recorded:

  • 385 stops of vehicles whose drivers were suspected of impaired driving or other traffic violations
  • 296 verbal or written warnings for risky driving behavior, including 57 for speeding
  • 236 traffic citations were issued, including 52 for speeding, a number of which were for drivers exceeding the speed limit by 20 m.p.h. or more.
  • 7 arrests for OWI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated). An additional 21 arrests were made for other criminal violations

Law enforcement agencies dedicated over 486 combined hours conducting this enforcement campaign, which was planned during the holidays, when driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is especially common.

“This effort brought together smaller and larger law enforcement agencies across the county with one purpose: to save lives and reduce injuries,” Lt. O’Neil said. “We just want people to think and not drive if they’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We can’t measure the number of people who decided not to drive because of this campaign. But we can measure statistics on
traffic stops when dangerous behavior is observed. They tell a story that is a good reminder for us all.”

Law Enforcement Agencies Work Together to Reduce Impaired Driving

Originally Released: December 12, 2023.

Law enforcement agencies throughout Dane County are joining forces this holiday season to remind drivers it’s not worth the risk to drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs. The Wisconsin State Patrol, Dane County Sheriff’s Office, and all 20 local police departments in the county are working in partnership with the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC) to remind drivers to “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.” Together, these agencies will launch a special enforcement effort to get impaired drivers off the roads over the holidays.

“On December 15 and 29, our collaborative increased presence will help deter impaired driving and provide an opportunity for officers to talk with the public about the risk of getting behind the wheel after drinking or using drugs,” said Lt. Chad O’Neil, Stoughton Police Department, co-chair of the Law
Enforcement Subgroup of the TSC.

“It’s more than stopping or arresting drivers. Our goal is to save lives. Someone is killed or injured in an impaired driving crash about every two hours in Wisconsin. We must put an end to these preventable tragedies,” Lt. O’Neil said.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi emphasized the importance of this joint effort. “The holidays are known for being the deadliest season when it comes to impaired driving. In Wisconsin, over the holiday season last year from Dec. 15 through Jan. 1, there were 470 crashes involving impaired drivers. This campaign is happening now to ensure everyone can make it home for the holidays.”

Parisi said that alcohol and drugs can have a significant impact on a driver’s focus and ability to maintain control behind the wheel. “Last year in Dane County there were 549 crashes involving drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs. These resulted in 14 deaths and 274 injuries. So far this year in Dane County, there have been nearly that many – 548 alcohol or drug-related crashes. The year’s not over, and the 15 related deaths already exceeded last year’s total. Alcohol and drugs contributed to more than one-third of all traffic fatalities.

“I’m pleased that our county’s law enforcement professionals have committed to this joint effort to keep our roadways and those who depend on them safer.”The new Dane County campaign was announced in a press conference at Hotel Indigo, which is located in the “hotspot” area experiencing the most impaired driving crashes in the county. Over the past three years, 19 crashes have occurred in just nine blocks of East Washington, East Johnson, and East Gorham. Four other hotspot crash areas are in Madison and five in the cities of Sun Prairie and Monona, and the towns of Dunn, Springfield, and Deerfield. These areas will receive special attention during this campaign.

After the holidays, the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission will announce the number of traffic stops, citations, warnings, and OWI arrests made during this effort.

Everyone can help with this effort. Lt. O’Neil offered these tips:

  • If you plan to celebrate, identify a sober designated driver, call a taxi, use a rideshare service or find another safe ride home.
  • Never allow someone who is impaired to get behind the wheel. If a friend is about to drive after drinking or using drugs, take the keys away and help them get home safely.
  • If you suspect a driver is impaired, call 911. Provide as much detail as possible on the driver, vehicle, and location.

Lt. O’Neil said three multi-jurisdictional high-visibility OWI task forces in Dane County work year around to stop impaired drivers through special enforcement efforts.

Middleton Police Chief Troy Hellenbrand, president, Dane County Chiefs of Police Association, emphasized the benefit of all the agencies working together. “This effort brings together larger and
smaller law enforcement agencies across the county at one time with one purpose: to save lives and reduce injuries on our county roadways.

“We cannot overstate the importance of abstaining from driving after using alcohol or drugs,” Chief Hellenbrand said. “This enforcement campaign helps us get the message out that driving under the influence is illegal and takes lives. Help us put an end to these needless tragedies.”

Hee-Soo Jung, MD, FACS, FCCM, trauma surgeon, UW Health, and associate professor of surgery, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said serious injuries from motor vehicle crashes represent the second highest patient population annually at the UW Health Level I Adult Trauma Center. “Increasingly, these crashes involve alcohol or substance use impaired driving,” he said. “They affect the healthcare teams who care for patients, from first responders at the scene, to emergency department teams, and trauma surgeons, nurses, and hospital staff.

“It is distressing to watch the rapidly growing rate of such crashes, the worry of family members, as well as the anguish and guilt of the impaired driver. The injuries we see are often complex and result in lifelong complications, are lifechanging, and too often life-ending.”

No one knows that better than John Miller, whose son, Jack, and two friends lost their lives in a horrific 2021 crash in the Town of Middleton.

“Our lives are irreparably damaged without our son, Jack, and we miss him every day. It hurts,” said Miller. “What I didn’t expect was not only the impact on his friends but also his high school and the broader Madison community. Other families should not have to feel the pain that our families will endure the rest of our lives.”

2023: Deadly for Motorcycle Crashes in Dane County

Originally Released: November 13, 2023.

The third quarter this year was significantly more deadly for motorcyclists in Dane County. From July through September, five people died in four motorcycle crashes, according to a new report from the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC), a 48-member coalition of law enforcement and other agencies which meets quarterly to monitor traffic crash data.

Cheryl Wittke, TSC co-chair and executive director of Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County, said these four motorcycle crashes accounted for half of all motor vehicle crashes during those three months and more than half of all fatalities.

Through October this year, Dane County experienced 98 motorcycle crashes, with 6 fatalities and 76 injuries, which already exceeds 2022’s year-end totals of 87 crashes, 2 fatalities and 55 injuries.

Randy Wiessinger, TSC member and Law Enforcement Liaison/Consultant with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Safety and Technical Services, emphasized it’s not just Dane County.

“So far this year, 98 fatal motorcycle crashes across Wisconsin have resulted in 101 deaths,” he said. “In two thirds of those deaths, the driver was not wearing a helmet. The good weather has brought more motorcycles out on the road, and we’re seeing more in northern Wisconsin than before. Eleven of the 98 fatalities so far have involved motorcycle-deer collisions.”

Lt. Jen Hannah, TSC member and supervisor of Madison Police Department Traffic and Specialized Services had the difficult task of reporting motorcycle traffic fatalities at the recent Traffic Safety Commission meeting since all happened in Madison.

“All of the crashes, except for one, involved riders 30 years old or younger, Lt. Hannah said. “It’s so sad their lives were cut short, and families and friends left to grieve their loss.” She said she’ll never forget one motorcycle crash a few years ago in which the driver’s father came to the scene, not knowing his son had died. “It was heartbreaking. The medical examiner had not given him the official death notification, but he knew. My heart broke for him.

“Speeding was involved in most of the motorcycle deaths,” she added. “One driver was going 130 mph. Speeding poses not only a risk to motorcyclists but endangers everyone using the roads,
including bicyclists and pedestrians.”

Wittke noted that motorcycles involve extra risk compared with passenger vehicles, including less driver and passenger protection in a crash. “The chances of dying in a motorcycle crash are five
times higher than in a car. But it’s possible to reduce the risk without diminishing the joys and thrills that define motorcycling,” she said. “One of the easiest ways is to wear a properly fitted, DOT-compliant helmet,” she said, noting that in Wisconsin, helmets are required only for riders and passengers under 18. “Drivers also need to always ride sober and obey speed limits.”

Wittke said that newer automobile crash avoidance systems such as automatic emergency braking and left turn assist can help avoid crashes with motorcyclists, but many older vehicles don’t
have those. A newer innovation is automatic braking systems (ABS) on motorcycles, which are required in many countries but not in the U.S. where one-third of all newly sold motorcycles are not equipped with ABS.

“Car and truck drivers also need to watch out for motorcycles, especially when turning at intersections. Safe driving and riding practices by all road users will help reduce the number of tragic
motorcycle fatalities and injuries on our county’s roads,” Wittke said.

African Americans, Latinos at Greater Risk in Traffic Crashes

Originally Released: October 23, 2023.

It’s a Dane County fact. African Americans and Latinos are at greater risk of dying or suffering serious injuries in traffic crashes.

To improve driver and pedestrian safety in communities of color, the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC), in partnership with Safe Communities of Madison-Dane
County, has begun a new yard sign campaign reminding all motorists to drive more
safely in neighborhoods. Cropping up around Madison and surrounding communities this week are yard signs depicting a young child, on one side cautioning drivers, “I Am Loved: Please Slow Down” and on the other side, “You Are Loved! Please Buckle Up.” Signs are in both English and Spanish. Madison artist, author, educator, and non-profit leader Lilada Gee created the sign graphic.

Cheryl Wittke, TSC co-chair and executive director of Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County, said that in the most recent quarter monitored by the Traffic Safety Commission, over half of traffic crash fatalities involved African Americans, Latinos or Asians.

“In 2023, we’re seeing an acceleration of a trend we have found in recent years,” she said. “In 2022, people of color accounted for 31% of all injuries and fatalities in the county, while representing 21.7% of the population.” Wittke said these numbers include not just drivers but also passengers, bicyclists, or pedestrians struck by vehicles.

“Every crash has the potential of changing lives and families forever,” said Itina Johnson, African American Opioid Coalition and Traffic Safety Project Coordinator with Safe Communities. “These signs are just one step we all can take to keep this issue in front of motorists. It’s not just about people of color. These signs are good words of advice to keep everyone safer in and around our county roadways.”

Wittke said the signs are being introduced now for the added benefit of keeping children and families safer as an increased number of people walk neighborhoods at Halloween.

“Halloween nationally is one of the top three days for pedestrian injuries and fatalities,” Wittke said. “The CDC estimates that children are four times more likely to be struck by a motor vehicle on
Halloween than any other day of the year.”

Community organizations are helping distribute the yard signs. These include the Urban League, Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, Reach Dane, Common Wealth Development, African American Council of Churches, Catholic Multicultural Center, Madison Police Amigos en Azul, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. – Kappa Psi Omega Chapter, Northside Planning Council, Safe Kids Madison Area, Neighborhood Navigators of Sun Prairie, and Sun Prairie Police.

Teran Peterson, Neighborhood Navigators Program Manager for the City of Sun Prairie, said this sign program fits perfectly with their work. “We emphasize outreach activities targeted to community needs. Keeping our residents and neighborhoods safe is a major focus,” she said.

“We’re placing the signs in the yards of businesses, churches, private homes and apartment complexes,” Johnson said. “We’re working especially hard to get the signs out in neighborhoods frequented by people of color.”

TSC Member and AAA Wisconsin Director of Public Affairs Nick Jarmusz offered the following additional AAA top tips for safer neighborhood driving at Halloween:

  • Designate a navigator. If you need to check a map, take pictures, or do anything that will take your attention off the road, pull over or delegate those tasks to a passenger.
  • Remain seated and buckled. Everyone in the vehicle should remain seated and buckled at all times, even when parked on the side of the road.
  • Drive at least 5 mph below the posted speed limit to give yourself extra time to react to children who might dart into the street.
  • Watch for children walking on roadways and streets in dark costumes (harder to see at night).
  • Look for children crossing the street. They may not be paying attention to traffic and cross the street mid-block or between parked cars.
  • Carefully enter and exit driveways and alleys.
  • Turn on your headlights to make your vehicle more visible.
  • Broaden your scanning by looking for children left and right.

For trick-or-treaters, AAA recommends:

  • Be bright at night: wear light-colored clothing or costumes to improve visibility to motorists and others. If unavailable, use reflective tape on costumes and treat buckets.
  • Wear disguises that don’t obstruct vision. Avoid facemasks.
  • Ensure any props are flexible and blunt-tipped to avoid injury.
  • Carry a flashlight containing fresh batteries
  • Stay on sidewalks and avoid walking in streets if possible (always walk facing traffic and stay as far to the left of the roadway as possible).
  • Don’t walk distracted. Save the social media updates for before or after you go trick-or-treating. Avoid checking your phone while walking or supervising children.

Signs and Increased Enforcement Remind Drivers to SLOW DOWN for Students

Originally Released: September 7th, 2023.

With schools in session, all Dane County law enforcement agencies are teaming up with each other, the Wisconsin State Patrol, area communities and the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC) to urge drivers to keep children and adolescents safe. The collaboration includes free SLOW DOWN yard signs for residents and businesses and increased surveillance
for speeding and other risky driving from September 11-15.

“We all see motorists speeding through neighborhoods, running stop signs, ignoring crosswalks, or driving while checking their phones,” said Matt Wagner, Cottage Grove Police lieutenant and co-chair of the TSC’s law enforcement subgroup. “Always dangerous behaviors, these are even more alarming when more kids are out walking, biking or skateboarding to and from school. Traffic can be especially congested around schools, and frustrated motorists are more likely to demonstrate unsafe driving behaviors.

“Kids may be crossing busy streets, learning routes to a new school, rushing to start the day or get home, looking at their phones, or chatting with friends. We have to watch out for their safety, even while parents warn them how to watch for inattentive drivers,” Lt. Wagner said.

“The SLOW DOWN signs are an ongoing reminder to look out for children and all pedestrians. Of course, people driving should exercise caution, regardless of whether they’re near a school or not. We hope reminders of safe driving practices during this especially critical start-of-school time will reduce traffic injuries and fatalities all year.”

The faster vehicles travel, the more likely crashes will occur, according to Cheryl Wittke, TSC co-chair and executive director of Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County. “Children are especially vulnerable because of their size and inexperience.” Wittke said that when a child is hit by a vehicle going 40 mph, 85% of crashes are fatal.

According to TSC member Rishelle Eithun, Pediatric Injury Prevention Manager at UW Health Kids, pedestrian injuries are the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths among children 5 to 14 in the United States. Each year, nearly 900 children ages 14 and younger die from pedestrian injuries, and another 24,000 are injured in traffic-related crashes.

Eithun said, “It’s a significant problem, for example, based on what we have experienced at UW Health. In the last five years, 35 children and adolescents have been treated for injuries at UW Health hospitals as a result of a vehicle striking a pedestrian, and 16 from running into a bicycle. Injuries sustained in pedestrian crashes were far more severe. Nine of the injuries were “profound,” the most serious types of injuries, and two children died. The majority are teens: of those killed or injured, 51% were aged 12 to 17, 35% were 6-11 and 14% were five or younger.”

Eithun added that it’s not just a Madison problem. Eighty-four percent of the 51 injured children
were hurt in communities outside Madison.

Drivers also need to do their part to keep kids safe, Lt. Wagner said. He recommends:

  • Obey speed limits, usually 15 mph in school zones but subject to local regulation.
  • Slow down and exercise caution when kids are walking, biking, or skateboarding.
  • Stop for stopped school buses; never pass them.
  • Watch for crossing guards.
  • Approach all crosswalks and intersections with caution. Never go around a vehicle stopped
    at a crosswalk.

Participating in this program are the Wisconsin State Patrol and all Dane County police departments: Belleville, Blue Mounds, Cottage Grove, Cross Plains, DeForest, Fitchburg, Madison, Maple Bluff, Marshall, McFarland, Middleton, Monona, Mount Horeb, Oregon, Shorewood Hills, Stoughton, Sun Prairie, Verona, and Waunakee. Also participating is the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, providing law enforcement services to Black Earth, Brooklyn, Cambridge/Deerfield, Cottage Grove (town), Dunn, Mazomanie, Middleton (town), Westport/Dane, Windsor, and other outlying communities.

The Slow Down yard sign and increased traffic enforcement effort is a countywide collaborative effort among law enforcement agencies, community groups promoting safer driving, Dane County Traffic Safety Commission, Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County, Wisconsin Department of Transportation, and Vision Zero – Madison.

Traffic Crashes with Injuries on the Rise in Road Construction Work Zones

Originally Released: August 17, 2023.

Dane County is experiencing significantly more construction work zone crashes this year in which motorists are injured, according to a report from the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC).

Randy Wiessinger, TSC member and Law Enforcement Liaison/Consultant with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Safety, said, “So far in the first seven months this year, we have seen 27 crashes in which motorists were injured in Dane County work zones, compared to a total of 24 all of last year. Thankfully, so far this year there have been no deaths, but, tragically, last year we experienced one death in a work zone crash.”

Wiessinger noted that in Dane County last year there were 135 total work zone crashes. Work zone crashes in 2023 year-to-date total 93 and, like those involving injuries, also are expected to exceed last year’s total, he said.

As area drivers maneuver around the many orange cones, lane restrictions and road closures, the 48-member Dane County Traffic Safety Commission is issuing a reminder to drive safely in work zones. In the past five years, Wisconsin saw 11,678 work zone crashes, which resulted in 63 deaths and 4,370 injuries, according to Wiessinger. To put that into perspective, he said, during last year’s construction season, there was one work zone crash every four hours in the state. In Wisconsin, the typical construction season is April through November.

“Increased funding for road construction in recent years has led to a significant increase in the number of road projects. Simultaneously, increased traffic volumes and driver frustration have led to an increased likelihood of work zone injuries and deaths,” Wiessinger said.

Matt Meyer, TSC co-chair and sergeant with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office said the most common crash in a highway work zone is a rear-end collision. Leading causes are speeding, tailgating and distracted driving.

“That’s why we recommend those driving through a work zone maintain a separation of at least five seconds between them and the vehicle they are following,” Sgt. Meyer said.

“Work zones are not there to inconvenience you. They are necessary to improve the roads for everyone. And those men and women working in the zones are putting their own lives at risk. They too have lives and families and we owe it to them to drive cautiously.”

Sgt. Meyer provided these tips for reducing the risks to drivers and work zone workers:

  • Slow down. Observe speed limit signs, even if traffic is moving smoothly.
  • Be alert to changing traffic patterns.
  • Leave space between your vehicle and workers or equipment when possible.
  • Expect delays; leave early to reach your destination on time.
  • Check for route delays on your smartphone map before you leave home.
  • If lanes are closed ahead, merge into open lanes as soon as possible.
  •  When possible, avoid work zones altogether.

Meyer also reminds drivers that, while it may be tempting, it is against Wisconsin law to use hand-held devices such as smartphones in a work zone except to report an emergency.